The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Garrick, David

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GARRICK, David, English actor: b. Hereford, England, 19 Feb. 1717; d. London, 20 Jan. 1779. His grandfather was a French refugee, his father a captain in the army. He was educated at the grammar school at Lichfield. He gave an early proof of his dramatic tendency by inducing his school-fellows to act the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ in which he himself took the part of Sergeant Kite, being then only 12 years of age. Later he was placed with a brother under Dr. Samuel Johnson. In 1741 he joined Giffard's company at Ipswich, where under the name of Lyddal he played with uniform success.

At this time the stages of the metropolis were but indifferently supplied with leading performers, so that when Giffard, who was manager of a threatre in Goodman's-fields, introduced his accomplished recruit there, 19 Oct. 1741, the effect was immediate and decisive. He judiciously chose the part of Richard III, which did not require that dignity of person in which he was deficient, while it gave him scope for all the strong marking of character and changes of passion in which his principal excellence consisted. He at the same time adopted a natural mode of recitation, which was a daring innovation on the part of a new performer before audiences accustomed to the artificial declamation of the school which preceded him. He afterward visited Dublin, where his success was even greater than in the metropolis, and in 1745 became joint manager with Sheridan of a theatre there. In 1746 he was engaged for the season at Covent Garden, and at its close purchased Drury Lane, and opened it 15 Sept. 1747, with the ‘Merchant of Venice,’ to which Dr. Johnson wrote a prologue for the occasion. This period formed an era in the English stage, from which may be dated a comparative revival of Shakespeare, and a reform both in the conduct and license of the drama. In 1749 he married Eva, Marie Violette (1724-1822), and his married life seems to have been happy. The next year (1750) he and Mrs. Bellamy were playing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Drury Lane, while Barry and Mrs. Cibber were giving the same play at Covent Garden; but the Covent Garden opposition failed, and it has been truly said of Garrick that the remainder of his theatrical career was an uninterrupted series of successes that brought enduring prosperity. He had written, while an actor, his farces of ‘The Lying Valet’; ‘Lethe,’ and ‘Miss in Her Teens’; and in 1766 he composed, jointly with Colman, the excellent comedy of ‘The Clandestine Marriage.’ The year 1769 was signalized by the famous Stratford jubilee — a striking proof of his enthusiasm for Shakespeare. It occupied three days at Stratford, and its representation at the theatre lasted for 92 nights. The last part which he performed was Don Felix in ‘The Wonder,’ for the benefit of the theatrical fund (10 June 1776). At the conclusion of the play he addressed a brief farewell to the audience. The general feeling with which this was delivered and received rendered it truly impressive. His remains were interred in Westminster Abbey, his funeral being attended by a numerous assemblage of rank and talent. As an actor Garrick has rarely been equaled for truth, nature and variety and facility of expression, for which his countenance appears to have been admirably adapted. Expression and the language of passion formed his great strength, as he was equaled by many of his contemporaries in the enunciation of calm sentimental and poetical declamation. His literary talents were respectable, but not eminent; besides the pieces already mentioned he wrote some epigrams, a great number of prologues and epilogues, and a few dramatic interludes, and made many and sometimes judicious alterations of old plays. A collection of his works was published in London (1768-98), and his correspondence 1831-32. Consult Knight, ‘Life of David Garrick’ (London 1894); Parsons, ‘Garrick and his Circle’ (Boston 1907).